Established on May 31, 1948, by David Ben-Gurion, a mere two weeks after Israel’s declaration of independence, the IDF comprises the military of the State of Israel: army, navy, and air force. Based on the theory that the best offense is a solid defense, the model of the IDF is being ready to quell any attack by taking the battle to the enemy. It serves under the civil government of the country. The military is expected to tamp down threats and deter potential hostilities, reinforcing peace arrangements, as well.
The “Spirit of the IDF” draws on four sources: its own tradition; the tradition of the State of Israel and its democratic principles, laws, and institutions; the tradition of the Jewish people throughout history; and universal moral values based on the value and dignity of human life.
Military service in Israel is mostly mandatory as citizens turn 18. Men serve for three years, and women for two. New immigrants may be deferred or serve for shorter times. After the initial compulsory service, one is assigned to a reserve unit and may serve up to the age of 51. There are, of course, also career military who continue service after the compulsory years, including those who graduate officers’ or pilots’ or technical schools and are therefore required to sign on for periods of career service.
The IDF also offers volunteer programs for those who are not (yet) citizens. There are several programs. Mahal began during the 1948 war of independence for foreign volunteers wishing to serve in full combat and support roles. Marva is an eight-week army simulation program, in which one serves alongside fellow Jewish youth from around the world. Sar-El is a three-week volunteer program that enables one to volunteer and live with Israelis and other volunteers on Israeli army bases, performing support work such as cleaning tanks, painting helmets, refurbishing gas masks, other maintenance tasks.
The IDF also accepts monetary donations through the Friends of the IDF United States and Panama.
As of this writing, two family members of Beth Shalom are serving in the IDF. They will be joined by a third in the fall.